End of three weary months at Elandslaagte—A small Boer attack—The Advance of General Buller by Helpmakaar on Dundee—We under General Hildyard advance up the Glencoe Valley—Retreat of the Boers to Laing's Nek—Occupation of Newcastle and Utrecht—We enter the Transvaal—Concentration of the army near Ingogo—Naval guns ascend Van Wyk, and Botha's Pass is forced—Forced march through Orange Colony—Victory at Almond's Nek—Boers evacuate Majuba and Laing's Nek—Lord Roberts enters Pretoria—We occupy Volksrust and Charlestown.
Monday, 7th May.—Still at Elandslaagte. Rumours of a possible attack made us stand to guns before daylight, and it was well we did so, as at 5.45 a.m. a party of Boers tried to rush the station and were repulsed with slight loss on both sides; they managed to clear off in the dim light. The attacking commando became afterwards known as the "Ice Cream Brigade," being largely composed of Italians and Scandinavians.
Thursday, 10th May.—Rumours of a move. Poor Captain Jones is laid up with jaundice, and indeed all in camp are a little off colour. Nice letters to-day from my father and Admiral Douglas. The Middlesex and Halsey's guns are shifted over to Krogman's farm. Self busy putting to rights some of our wagon wheels which had shrunk from the tyres owing to the great heat and drought.
Friday, 11th May.—A great move this morning. The Dorsets trekked at daylight to hold Indudo Mountain (p. 060) and Indumeni on our right. General Clery's Division marched with Dundonald's Cavalry up Waschbank Valley, and the 5" have been shifted to cover this advance. We were much amused to-day in reading the first edition of the Ladysmith Lyre (Liar), which perhaps I may be forgiven for quoting, with songs sung by the garrison:—A duet by Sir George White and General Clery, "O that we two were maying"; by Buller's Relief Force, "Over the hills and far away"; by the Intelligence Officer, "I ain't a-going to tell"; by Captain Lambton, "Up I came with my little lot"; then a letter from Ladysmith to Paradise Alley, Whitechapel:
"This 'ere seige is something orful. We sits and sits and sits and does nothing. Rations is short, taters is off, and butter is gone. We only gets Dubbin. These blooming shells are a fair snorter; they 'um something 'orrid. 'Opin' this finds you as it leaves me,
Among other amusing items was, "Mrs. K. says her dear Oom is getting too English: he no longer turns into bed in his clothes and boots."
Sunday, 13th May.—We got our marching orders at last about 11 a.m., and I was just in the act of mounting my horse in good spirits to ride off and see my guns brought down over Elandslaagte Kop, when something startled him and he bolted over the rocks near the camp; having only one foot in the stirrup I overbalanced and came heavily on my head and left shoulder and was knocked silly for twenty minutes with a gash over my eye to the bone. I was carried to my tent and kindly stitched up by Dr. Campbell of the Imperial Light Infantry, and being much shaken I was obliged to hand over command of my (p. 061) guns to poor Steel who was only just recovering from jaundice and had to trek off at 3 p.m. to Sunday's River Drift. By keeping very quiet in the 4.7 camp in Hunt's tent I got over my fall better than I expected, and was able to move on, with a bandaged head and a sore body, with the 4.7 Battery when they marched at daybreak on the 17th to Waschbank Bridge which we reached at about 11 p.m. after a very hot and dusty march—all done up and cross, and self in addition bandaged up and feeling altogether unlovely after a slow and horribly dusty ride of eighteen miles. The position of affairs now seems to be this: General Buller with Clery's Division (the 2nd) and the Cavalry have occupied Beith and moved on Dundee from which the Boers fled on the 14th with 4,000 men and eighteen guns. Thus, Buller is in Dundee; Lyttelton's Division (the 4th) is still near Ladysmith under orders to advance; and we (the 5th) are to move to Glencoe with all speed up Glencoe Pass and along the railway line route.
Friday, 18th May.—At 7 a.m. we trekked under General Hildyard and had a very trying march with dust, dust, dust, sometimes a foot thick, till arriving half-way to Glencoe we outspanned oxen. We found all the railway bridges and the culverts of the line, some twenty-eight all told, blown up along our line of march. The Boer positions we passed on the road were extraordinarily strong, as usual; and one can well understand why they held on to this place and the Biggarsberg ranges on each side, a position ten times stronger than any Colenso. We reached Glencoe about 5 p.m., and marching through it bivouacked for the night a mile beyond the town on the level uplands. Here we received orders to advance with all speed to Newcastle, where the Commander-in-Chief is with the 2nd Division; so on we moved by moonlight (p. 062) in a cloud of dust and passed the night on an awful rocky place at Hatton's Spruit, trekking on in the morning towards Newcastle; but when five miles on our march we received orders to move back to Glencoe as the line had broken down and there were no supplies for us at Newcastle. All disappointed, but back we had to go! The weather is bitterly cold, and although we have our tents, we are, no doubt for good reasons, not allowed to pitch them.
Sunday, 20th May.—Took over my guns from Steel feeling rather low with a plastered cut on my face. General Hildyard has congratulated us all on the hard work and marching of the last few days. Both he and his Staff have always a kind word for everyone, and I was greatly pleased when they and Prince Christian, on seeing me with my faithful guns once more, told me how glad they were that I had got so well over my fall.
Tuesday, 22nd May.—Busy getting my wagon wheels and guns right after their trek over the bad road, and obliged to send them into Dundee to be cut and re-tyred. I rode with Steel and Hunt to Dundee which is five miles off; it is a small and miserable place with tin-roofed houses, bare dusty surroundings, and awful streets. We saw poor General Penn Symons' grave with the Union Jack flying over it, and other graves marked by faded wreaths and wooden crosses. We had a talk with the Chaplain who said that the Boers had passed through on Sunday in full flight with all their guns. We rode back from this desolate scene, amid the dust of ages and smell of dead animals, wondering how poor General Symons ever allowed the Boers to occupy Talana Hill which is only half a mile from the town and completely commands it; in fact, there should never have been a Talana, and our troops did splendidly to retake it.
(p. 063) Wednesday, 23rd May.—Sudden orders to move off at 2 p.m., so all is rush and hurry. I rode once more at the head of my guns, and all went well with us except that one of the poor oxen broke a hind leg in the trek chains down a steep bit of road and had to be left behind and shot. For four hours after this our long line of march was stuck in a drift, but at last, at 11 p.m., we got over it and at 1 a.m. bivouacked at Dannhauser.
Thursday, 24th May.—The Queen's birthday. God bless her. Up at daylight, very cold, and no tents. Poor Captain Jones still very sick with jaundice. Steel also, following my example, got a bad fall on the rocks from his horse and is in Field Hospital. At noon we all paraded in line with the Naval Brigade on the right; General Talbot Coke made a speech and we gave Her Majesty three cheers from our hearts and drank her health in the evening.
Friday, 25th May.—Orders came to get our guns in position to defend the camp, so off I had to go to do this on one flank and Halsey on the other; and we lay out all day ready for an attack, with the cattle grazing just in front of us. To our right about fifty miles off is Majuba Hill.
Saturday, 26th May.—We left Dannhauser at daybreak—oh, how cold—marched with the 10th Brigade, and trekked on to Ingagane, meeting on the road Lyttelton's Division (the 4th), which was hurrying to the front. We reached Ingagane at 5 p.m., and met General Buller and Staff just as we were going into camp for the night. The General looked well; and the sight of him, somehow, always cheers one up, as one feels something is going to be done at once.
Sunday, 27th May.—Up at daybreak and awfully cold. We marched off to Newcastle, the fine Lancashire Fusiliers, (p. 064) my father's old regiment, doing rearguard just behind our guns. Met Archie Shee of the 19th Hussars who recognised me from old Britannia days, where he and I were together. He told me that my cousin Ernest St. Quintin of the 19th had gone home with enteric after the Ladysmith siege. On getting to the top of the hills overlooking Newcastle we were much struck with the view and the prettiness of the town which the Boers had hardly wrecked at all—quite the best I have seen in Natal from a distance. We went gaily down the hill and over a footbridge into camp where we found all three Divisions together, barring a Brigade pushed on with some 5" and 12-pounders to Ingogo. We hear that Lord Roberts is across the Vaal, and that Hunter is pushing up through the Orange Free State parallel with us, while the enemy are holding Majuba, Laing's Nek and tunnel, and Pougwana Hill to the east of the Nek, with 10,000 men.
Monday, 28th May.—Moved off with the 5th Division under General Hildyard towards Utrecht. After an eight-mile march we crossed the bridge over Buffalo River and Drift unopposed by Boers, and entered the Transvaal at last. We were the first of the Natal force to do so, so I record it proudly. At 9 p.m.—a very cold night—orders came for an advance on Utrecht, my guns and some Infantry under Major Lousada being left to hold the bridge and drift here. I visited all the salient points of defence and outposts from Buffalo River to Wakkerstroom Road and carefully selected my gun positions, then brought the guns, each with an ammunition wagon, up the ridge, a steep pull up, and placed them one commanding the Utrecht Road and one Wakkerstroom Road—unluckily one mile apart, which could not be helped. I put my chief petty officer, Munro, in command of the left gun and took the right one myself, riding between the two to (p. 065) give general directions when necessary. At night as no Boers appeared we withdrew the guns and wagons behind the ridge.
Wednesday, 30th May.—Drew the guns out of laager at sunrise and again got into position and arranged details of defence with Major Lousada so far as my own work was concerned. All was quiet however to-day, and we saw no Boers nearer than Pougwana. And so it went on for the next few days, during which the Landrost of Utrecht, after twenty-four hours' armistice, delivered up the town to General Hildyard, saying that he had done the same in 1881 to a British force which had never occupied it after all. So history repeats itself.
Saturday, 2nd June.—Marched along the right bank of Buffalo River towards Ingogo, while Lyttelton's Brigade moved on our right on the other side of the river towards Laing's Nek. After a pleasant trek across the open veldt, and therefore no dust, we reached De Wet's farm near Ingogo in the evening and bivouacked; a grand day marching right under Majuba and Prospect and yet no sign of the enemy. Had a short talk with General Hildyard and Prince Christian on the march, as they rode by my battery, reminding the latter that I had first seen him when I was in the Royal yacht in 1894 and took his father and himself about in her steam launch at Cowes—a very different scene to this. The Prince said he knew all along he had seen me before somewhere.
Tuesday, 5th June.—Rode to Ingogo and saw the spot where the fight took place in 1881, the huge rocks from which our fellows were eventually cut up by Boer rifle fire, the monument set up to the 3rd Bn. Royal Rifles, and some graves higher up of which one was to a Captain of the R.E. Poor, unlucky, but gallant Sir George Colley; he went from Ingogo to Majuba and there met his untimely (p. 066) death. The view from here of Laing's Nek was glorious at sunset, Majuba frowning on one side with Mount Prospect and Pougwana on the other, and the bed of the Ingogo River below in a green and fertile valley. The Boer position is very strong although our heavy Artillery ought to be able to force it.
Wednesday, 6th June.—All on the move, as the armistice which General Buller was trying to arrange with Chris Botha is up, the latter replying: "Our heavy guns and Mausers are our own and will be moved at our convenience; the armistice is over." We hear that Lord Roberts is in Pretoria and that Kruger has fled; but how unsatisfactory that this does not end the war. In fact, marching to Pretoria was the feature and romance of the war, and now must commence anxious and weary guerilla tactics which may last a long time. About dark in came orders to the Naval guns to move on and occupy Van Wyk to-night: and off we went through large grass fires and along awful roads, getting to the foot of the hill at about 1 a.m. with no worse mishap than the upset of one of my guns twice on huge rocks hidden in the long grass.
Captain Jones ordered me to go on up the hill during the night, leaving the 4.7 guns at the bottom; so we commenced a weary climb up Van Wyk (6,000 feet) on a pitch-dark night lighted only by the lurid gleams of grass fires which the enemy had set going on the slopes of the mountain. With thirty-two oxen on each gun it was only just possible to ascend the lower slopes, and thus we made very slow progress. But as Colonel Sim R.E. kindly showed me a sort of track up, on we toiled for six hours, my men not having had a scrap of food or a rest since starting while the night was deadly cold and dark. In the gray dawn, just as we were attempting the last (p. 067) slope which was almost precipitous, the wheels of one of the guns gave out and there we had to leave it till daylight, pressing on with the sound one and getting it up to the top exactly at daylight (7th June) in accordance with our orders, taking the gun and limber up separately, with all my oxen and 100 men pulling. We found the position was held by the 10th Brigade, and very heavy sniping going on down the N.W. slopes—a regular crackle of musketry.
I soon got my gun along the crest into an emplacement prepared by the Royal Engineers, and opened fire at once at 7,000 yards at a Boer camp on the slopes of an opposite kop; but finding the camp practically deserted we did not waste much fire on it. My men were now half dead with fatigue and cold, so we all got a short rest in a freezing wind.
Sir Redvers Buller, quite blue with cold, rode up about 9 a.m. with his Colonial guide, and carefully surveyed the position through my long telescope. Prince Christian also came up later to talk over the Boer position and seemed in great spirits. After a good look round we could not see many signs of the enemy in front, and he was just going off to report this, but at that moment the spurs of the berg opposite to us became alive with them at 6,000 or 7,000 yards off; they came in a long line out of a dip and donga and advanced in skirmishing order with ambulances in rear and a wagon with what looked like a gun on it. I opened fire at once and put my first two shells at 6,000 yards right into some groups of horsemen; we saw them tumbling about, so after about a dozen shots from my gun off they went like greased lightning, seeming to sink into the earth and evidently quite taken aback to find we had a gun in such a position. In a few minutes not a sign of them was left, and the Commander-in-Chief (p. 068) riding up appeared much pleased and congratulated us on our straight shooting; he seemed very satisfied that we had got the guns up Van Wyk at all, and rode off leaving us quite rewarded with his appreciation, besides that of General Hildyard and his Staff who were with him.
Up to about noon we had nothing but long range sniping going on, but to make all sure the 4.7 guns were sent up the hill by an easier and more circuitous road than we had come, and took up position in emplacements close to us. We on our part were busy all day completing our ammunition up to 100 rounds a gun from the wagons which we had been obliged to leave in the night half-way down the hill. Horribly cold! I slept in the open under a limber.
Friday, 8th June.—An attack on Botha's Pass arranged for 10 a.m. The 10th Brigade and Naval guns are to hold Van Wyk and cover the advance, with a range of 8,000 yards from the pass itself, and about three miles of valley and road between to search with our fire; the 11th Brigade is to attack in the centre, advancing along the valley to the foot of the pass; the 2nd Brigade of the 2nd Division to attack on the right, in echelon, and clear the slopes and spurs of the berg on our right flank; we ourselves to form the left of the line.
Our first objective was a conical high kop, called Spitz Kop, about 3,000 yards on our right and this was occupied without resistance by the South African Light Horse; our guns searched all the valleys and dongas up to the pass with a furious fire for some two hours assisted by May's batteries below us. We could hear General Clery pounding Laing's Nek with the two 4.7 guns on Prospect Hill and four 5" guns on our right, although Majuba and Pougwana were shut out by Mount Inkwelo from our actual (p. 069) view; and we knew that General Lyttelton had been detached to operate to the N.E. of Wakkerstroom. The attack developed about noon and we saw below us our Infantry and field batteries spread out in the plain like ants while we still pointed our guns ahead of them on to the top of the berg and pass. Up to the foot of the berg our men met with no resistance, but at last a furious fire of rifles and Pom-poms broke out on our right centre from Boers concealed in dongas and trenches on the spurs. Our gallant 11th Brigade, with the pressure eased by our fire and by the advance of the 2nd Brigade, took the hills and pass in grand style, and with small loss comparatively to ourselves. About 4 p.m. the enemy, driven up to the sky-line, lit large grass fires and cleverly slipped off towards the N.E. under cover of the smoke. We saw and fusilladed the Pom-poms through this smoke at 10,000 yards with the 4.7's, and at 5 p.m. we had the whole ground in our possession. Our troops in the valley were pushed on all night, and we ourselves also received orders to descend Van Wyk and press on. A shocking night; very wet and bitterly cold, with a heavy Scotch mist settled over us. Down Van Wyk we came, although delayed by our escort of Dublin Fusiliers losing their way all night in the fog, but the Dorsets helped us instead. We had a tough job coming down the steep hill in the mist but I had some fifty men on each of my guns to drag back and steady them, and we eventually got down to the lower ground without accident, but very much worn out and only just before daylight.
Saturday, 9th June.—At 6 a.m. moved on for Botha's Pass Road at full speed, and skirting a crest of hills overlooking a deliciously cool river, we soon came to the valley where our attack was advanced, and eventually got up the pass at dusk, at the tail end of a huge column all racing (p. 070) to get up first. If the Boers had properly entrenched the place it would have been impregnable. We bivouacked in Orange River Colony at the top of the pass, all in good spirits at our success and at being in a new country.
Sunday, 10th June.—Off at daybreak through delightful hard roads and veldt as compared with mountainous Natal; we can now realize Lord Roberts' fine forced marches on seeing the difference between these and the Natal roads. Our bullocks slipped along at the rate of three miles an hour, and passing farms flying white flags and flat veldt country we bivouacked for the night on Gansvlei Spruit, finding the boundary here of the Transvaal (a bend of the Klip River) quite close to us.
Monday, 11th June.—Off at 5 a.m., and got our Naval guns in position to attack, but found that the Boers had evacuated the ground in front of us. Up and on at a great rate over the grassy veldt, the guns now marching in four columns and keeping a broad front. At about 1 p.m. sudden firing in front and the familiar whirr of Boer shells made us come into action at 4,500 yards on Almond's Nek Pass, through which our road lay. The Boers were evidently in possession, judging by the warm greeting of Pom-poms and the Creusot 5", which played on us without much damage. The troops were now all halted, and formed up for attack which was to commence in an hour's time. The Commander-in-Chief (Buller) directed the operations, carried out at 2 p.m. by the Infantry advancing in long extended lines, the 10th Brigade in the centre, the 11th on the right, and the 2nd on the left, the field batteries and Naval guns covering the advance with lyddite. The 10th Brigade, which had 3,000 yards of plain to cross and a small kop to take, dislodged the Boers and their Pom-poms quietly and steadily under a heavy rifle and gun fire, the noise being terrific, as the (p. 071) hills and ravines were smothered by shrapnel and lyddite; in half-an-hour the Boers were on the run again and their fire was silenced, after treating us with Pom-pom and 45-lb. shrapnel, one piece of which narrowly escaped my left foot—a detail interesting to myself to recall. The attack of the Queen's, East Surreys, and Devons, on the left of the pass, and especially of the Dorsets on the conical hill, was most gallant and irresistible. Thus, about 5 p.m., at dusk we were in possession of the ridges 5,000 feet high on the left and right of the pass, which we thought a great achievement, while the Cavalry and Horse Artillery were pushed on to complete the Boer rout, but darkness coming on prevented this. General Buller and his Staff rode along our guns evidently very pleased, and indeed the force had won a brilliant little victory which cleared our way effectually and turned Laing's Nek besides. The Boers lost, as we thought, about 140 killed, of whom we buried a good many, while our casualties in killed and wounded were 137; but we afterwards learnt from an official Boer list found in Volksrust that their losses on this occasion reached 500, chiefly from our shrapnel fire. General Talbot Coke who directed the centre attack congratulated Captain Jones on the fine shooting of the Naval guns, as did also General Buller who said it had enabled them to take the position in front of us with such small loss. Again bitterly cold, and we bivouacked for the night on the battlefield.
Tuesday, 12th June.—On again an hour before dawn through Almond's Nek; a thick mist came down, but all being eventually reported clear ahead we marched on towards Volksrust and bivouacked.
Wednesday, 13th June.—All our men in high spirits; the 11th Brigade, with the Naval guns, moved on Volksrust, while the 10th Brigade and Royal Artillery guns (p. 072) marched to Charlestown, and we thus occupied the two towns simultaneously. Volksrust is a cold-looking, tin-roofed town; all houses and farms are showing the white flag, the men are gone, and the women are left behind weeping for their dead. We captured here a store of rifles and ammunition besides wagons and forage, not to mention Boer coffins left in their hurried flight.
Thursday and Friday, 14th and 15th June.—At Volksrust resting on our laurels, and all in good heart, although feeling this bitter mid-winter cold. General Hildyard sent for names to mention in his despatches, and I believe I am one. As commanding the Tartar guns I was also very pleased to be able to mention six of my men, and am full of admiration of the way in which my bluejackets have worked, shot, and stood the cold and marching. To sum up our recent operations, they are:—March from Elandslaagte to Glencoe, reoccupation of Newcastle; crossing of Buffalo Drift and occupation of Utrecht; ascent of Van Wyk at night with guns; turning and capture of Botha's Pass; march through Orange River Colony and Transvaal in pursuit of the Boers; taking of Almond's Nek and occupation of Volksrust and Charlestown, with the strong position of Laing's Nek turned and evacuated by the enemy who are in full flight. This is all very satisfactory, and we hear of congratulations from the Queen and others to General Buller. The Boers have, however, with their usual cleverness and ability, got away their guns by rail, but we hope to get them later. We are now busy refitting wagons and gear for a further advance. I hope the services of the bluejackets in these operations, which have been invaluable, will receive the recognition they deserve at the end of the campaign.